We've all had a sore throat or the flu. We've all had blood drawn. We've see the physical effects of chemo, and how much a broken bone can inhibit one's day-to-day life.
Depression, on the other hand, is far more difficult to relate to. It's beyond feeling sad. You lose your ability to function. Every movement takes thought and a pep talk. It feels like you're stuck in slow motion, carrying 100 pounds on your shoulders.
Mornings look like this: “I need to find my keys. I need to pick up my keys. I need to open the door. I need to close the door and lock it. I need to walk down the steps to my car. I need to open and shut the car door, and put the keys in the ignition.” You have to walk yourself through every motion.
At the same time, watching a loved one go through a depressive episode is gut-wrenching. It's like watching someone drown, but you can't jump in and swim to save him or her. You're helpless.
You're afraid to say the wrong thing and make it worse. You're terrified of leaving him or her alone. You don't feel like you can tell anyone because it isn't your secret to tell.
It shouldn't have to be a secret. Established mental health author, Andrew Solomon, said in his TED Talk “Depression is the family secret everyone has”. That's why mental health awareness is so important: It saves lives.
Here are a few things you can do if one of your near and dear is suffering from depression:
1. Find him or her a professional.
Depression is a serious illness. It's not something you can just snap out of. It's a chemical imbalance.
Your friend might not require an SSRI, but he or she should have a treatment plan. Unless you're a physician, you're in over your head. It's really hard to muster up the energy to pick up the phone and pour over a list of therapists or psychiatrists when you're drained from depression.
Offer help. Call and make the appointment yourself.
If your loved one afraid of the stigma, an appointment with a general practitioner can be a good place to start. You can't make him or her go to the appointment, but most of the time, people desperately want help. They can be talked into it with support. If you can't get through, you may want to reach out to someone who has more influence, like a parent.
2. Get moving.
It can be really hard to get out of bed in the morning during an episode. You might be tempted to let him or her sleep, but getting one's blood flowing makes a huge difference.
Suggest a walk, ask him or her to help you get groceries out of the car or pick him or her up for a coffee date. Exercise makes a huge difference.
3. Be persistent with communication.
One of the symptoms of depression is withdrawing from friends. If you don't live with him or her, your friend might ghost you.
Keep calling. Keep texting. Show up at his or her house if you have to.
Check in every day. Rally your clique and have them check in, too.
4. Do your research.
If you're reading this, you're obviously making an effort to educate yourself. Doing as much research as possible will make you a trusted resource.
Take the time to learn the symptoms and warning signs. Look into suicide risk assessments. If you're not a doctor, don't try to treat your friend. But know how to detect if there's an issue.
Again, this should be handled by a professional. Learn what you need to learn to be supportive – and even assertive – if the suicide risk merits a 911 call.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but open communication regarding mental disorders shouldn't be confined to 31 days. We've come a long way, but have so much farther to go.